What is Surface Mining?

Brenda Scott

Surface mining is a method of mining used to extract minerals and metals which are near the surface of the Earth. There are three basic types of surface mining: open pit mining, strip mining, and quarry mining. These methods are much more economical than underground mining, yet they can have a more significant impact on the surrounding environment unless efforts are taken to reclaim the land.

Many raw materials are available at the surface of the earth.
Many raw materials are available at the surface of the earth.

Open pit mining involves excavation which looks like a terrace. Cuts are made into the ground, and the area at that depth is worked around the circumference of the mine. Once the minerals and waste have been removed from the ledge, called a bench, the excavation moves down a level and work begins again. This type of surface mining, also known as hard rock mining, is typically employed to extract metal ores, like copper, gold, iron, and aluminum, and other minerals.

When gold is mined, it must be extracted from its surrounding materials.
When gold is mined, it must be extracted from its surrounding materials.

Strip mining is a form of surface mining that is primarily used for coal excavation. The rock and dirt covering the ore is removed one strip at a time. Once the ore has been taken from the first strip, a second strip is cut next to it, and the waste from the second strip is used to back fill the first. This goes on until the ore is exhausted, and then the waste from the first strip is used to fill in the last.

Quarry mining is one type of surface mining.
Quarry mining is one type of surface mining.

Sand, gravel, clay, granite, and other materials used in building are mined in quarries. This type of mining begins by blasting into rock in a manner to create the greatest fracturing. Rocks are further reduced by crushing machines and separated according to size. Mining ornamental stone does not blast the rock, but employs a method called broaching, which uses wedges placed into holes rather than explosives. The wedges are hammered into the holes until the stone breaks off.

Open-pit mining is a technique commonly used to mine copper.
Open-pit mining is a technique commonly used to mine copper.

Surface mining can be an inexpensive and relatively safe method of reaching much needed resources. The damage caused to the environment if the mine is not reclaimed, however, can be quite significant. Some of the problems faced in areas with abandoned mines include polluted surface and ground water, sediment clogged streams, landslides, fumes, and unstable ground.

Rock and dirt are removed in layers during strip mining.
Rock and dirt are removed in layers during strip mining.

In the United States, the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act established the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) as a bureau in the Department of Interior to oversee reclamation of surface mines. The primary focus in on coal mining, and the OSMRE is charged with ensuring that mining is conducted in an environmentally responsible manner and that the land is reclaimed during and after the mining process. To achieve this, they have the authority to deny mining rights in areas where reclamation is not feasible.

In the UK, which has a much longer history of surface mining than the US, reclamation is a required part of the mining process as well. In many cases, strip mining has occurred in areas of unusable land, and the reclamation process has not only restored, but improved the soil. Reclaimed land in Britain is used for farming, housing developments, parks, golf courses, and many other projects which meet local needs.

Strip mining is primarily used for excavating coal.
Strip mining is primarily used for excavating coal.

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Discussion Comments

anon1000606

Yes gold is a mineral because it complies with all the rules of SNIFC

1. Solid

2. Naturally occurring

3. Inorganic

4. Fixed composition

5. Crystal form

Hope this was helpful .

anon947025

Is gold a mineral? Tell me now.

babycakes154

Can someone tell me how mining rock salt can affect the environment? I need it right now. I have to turn in homework in five minutes.

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